Research News

App-ealing to students through app development

Team led by Trinity College professor develops computer science course that inspires students through mobile application development

It seems like people can't get enough of their mobile devices. Last year, according to the app analytics firm Flurry, American's spent 80 percent of their mobile device time in an application, or app.

Now imagine taking advantage of this interest in apps to captivate and educate students about computer science. That is exactly what the creators of Mobile Computer Science Principles (Mobile CSP) have done.

With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), a team of professors and educators in Connecticut has developed a rigorous computer science curriculum based on the College Board's emerging computer science Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Principles course.

The project is led by Ralph Morelli, a professor of computer science at Trinity College, in collaboration with Chinma Uche, Connecticut Computer Science Teachers Association president and Pauline Lake, Mobile Apps for Hartford program leader and teaching consultant.

Mobile CSP was developed and piloted at Trinity College and is currently being taught in at least 30 schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

During the Mobile CSP course, students learn computer science by building socially useful mobile apps using MIT App Inventor, a visual blocks-based programming environment. In addition to programming and computer science principles, the course is project-based and emphasizes writing, communication, collaboration and creativity.

"Mobile CSP students are inspired by the invitation to be creative and have fun while developing a useful app that can immediately be shared with family and friends," said Morelli. "The course helps students realize they can have real social impact when they learn computer science."

An app created by Mobile CSP students won the Connecticut section of the first annual Congressional App Challenge, a nationwide academic competition where high school students compete by creating and exhibiting an app for mobile, table or computer devices.

Cristopher Marques, Eliot Serrano and Sean McCarthy of Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy designed their app to keep teachers and staff informed when there is a school emergency, providing them with up-to-the-minute information.

After a showcase of apps developed by Mobile CSP students, the city of Hartford sponsored a summer program at Trinity College called Mobile Apps for Hartford. The program hosted 20 students from around the state who worked together under the guidance of Wethersfield high school teacher Joseph Kess and Trinity College undergraduate mentors Christine Boyle and Kenneth Thomas.

The students developed six city apps, including a tour of the Hartford area, a library rewards program, an overview of City Hall and apps for Hartford Youth Services and the RiseUP Leadership Development Program.

Beginning in summer 2015, Jennifer Rosato and Chery Takkunen of the College of Saint Scholastica, with support from another NSF grant, will expand the Mobile CSP curriculum, offering it to teachers online. They will provide professional development to high school teachers throughout the country and aim to reach at least 180 teachers during the next three years.

"New engaging computer science curricula, like Mobile CSP, help to change students' perspectives from being consumers of technology to being producers of it," Morelli said.